'High' Hall - University of Birmingham Chamberlain Hall replacement

The University of Birmingham has submitted plans to demolish and rebuild it's Hall of Residence Chamberlain Hall, comprising 22 storey Eden Tower, Hampton Wing, Chelwood Wing and the associated Central Kitchen.

Chamberlain Hall has been empty for six years following it's closure for failing to comply with a fire safety order, No firm future plans to make use of unsafe Chamberlain Hall.  The hall, aside from the food production area in the basement has been closed due to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

In response to an enquiry by Redbrick about the future of Chamberlain Hall it was said that the initial plan would have been to refurbish the building whilst simultaneously carrying out plans to comply with the fire regulation. This, according to the University, was the only way to make the process 'cost-effective', despite the building being 40 years old and requiring a lot of work. The University continued that there has been recent assessment into the future of the building, and that plans to refurbish would only be pursued if the building was given another 30 years life expectancy as it would be extremely expensive, and invited architects to 'produce outline concepts' of what might be achieved.http://www.redbrick.me/2012/01/no-firm-future-plans-to-make-use-of-unsafe-chamberlain-hall/

The recently submitted planning application follows the assessment that it would be unfeasible without substantial work and limited returns to refurbish it to the standard of the recently rebuilt Mason Hall and the expectation of students.

Eden Tower is a concrete framed building with wide flat beams and concrete upstands to the perimeter wall, to each floor plate. It is deep planned with access provided from the North side only. In refurbishment terms it presented a number of challenges:
1. Existing structure is large and set on a close grid. This not only limits room layout but places restriction on where service penetrations can be made.
2. Single sided escape makes apartment configurations difficult and alternative means of escape needed to be provided through adjacent apartments.
3. Deep plan makes it difficult to provide good levels of daylighting or restricts developable footprint.
4. Perimeter upstand beams prohibits useful floor plate expansion.
5. Limited ceiling heights. Even at its highest, ceiling heights are only 2350mm but this is reduced in areas with downstand beams and servicing.
6. Existing fenestration: Not only does the glazing need uplifting thermally, window sizes would not provide modern standards of daylight within bedrooms.
7. Fabric: The existing fabric is thermally weak and in need of repair. Given the requirement in (6) and failings in the wall ties within the building any refurbishment would require the complete removal of the external skin of the building and windows for replacement with new. Only the structure will be retained.

Chamberlain Hall was built in 1963 with Eden Tower as currently known titled High Tower and Hampton Wing as currently known titled Ridge Hall.  Andy Foster's Pevsner Guide to Birmingham, 2005, notes "Chamberlain Hall comprises a twenty-two storey tower, originally High Hall, by Harvey & Wicks, with Jackson & Edmonds, 1962-4, with a lower range, originally Ridge Hall". Foster, 2005, p.254).

The following pictures are copies from some of the archives of the construction of the hall which I had the privilege to see when I worked at the hall over several summers as a student at the University.  I hope that with the hall empty and with the plans for it's redevelopment the archives are preserved in the University's own collections or the new Library of Birmingham as a reflection on another changing part of Birmingham's redevelopment.

Invitation to the Topping Out.

November 1963

October 1963

November 1963

October 1963

The Vale, 1973

My own experience of Chamberlain Hall from being a resident of Aitken Wing, then associated with Chamberlain Hall in 2001, and through working in the hall over summer time was a building that was a reflection of the 1960s that would need substantial work to refurbish it to the standards that were already being raised by the construction of adjacent Elgar Court Hall of Residence in 2003.

The photo below, taken from Eden Tower, shows the construction of the Elgar Court Hall of Residences in 2003.

The hall of residence will have fond memories for many former University of Birmingham students from it's title as Chamberlain Hall to it's previous names of High Hall (Eden Tower) and Ridge Hall (Hampton Wing).  The site had an enviable site atop a ridge overlooking the University campus and the city centre.  The following pictures are scanned from pictures I took in 2003 looking across towards the University campus and the city centre showing the enviable views students will enjoy.

The hall sits on the edge of The Vale, which has been designated Grade II Registered Historic Park and Garden (English Heritage), which is a beautiful green setting around a lake.  It's designation as Grade II following it's history as an early example of university campus landscape that was influential on later campus universities such as York University and the University of East Anglia.

The design proposal for the Vale was based upon a contemporary picturesque vision for
‘Buildings set in a ‘natural’ flowing parkland and sufficiently far apart not to disturb each
other and broken down in scale when approached more closely in order to avoid any feeling of Institutionalism’ (Casson and Conder 1957). The overall idea for the development ‘was to preserve the attractive park-like character of this attractive sloping site by placing residential clusters among trees and by turning the low lying damp centre of the site into a lake’ (Historic Parks and Gardens Register Ref. GD3347 December 2000- Grade 11).

The green setting of the Vale is a legacy of the 'mature, gracefully contoured and planted piece of parkland' that Casson and Conder were able to work with following the acquisition of the site from Calthorpe Estate in 1955.  The University in 1951 had only one purpose built Hall of Residence and the highest proportion of students in private lodgings in any provincial university.  The acquisition of the site followed the gift of seven acres by Calthorpe Estate to build more halls in 1948-9.  The site was dominated by three large early 19th century villas.  The demolition of the villas and the reshaping of the landscape allowed the shielding of the new buildings on the NE and turned the low lying centre of the site into a lake.

The following images are reproduced from the planning application to invite discussion and respond to the public consultation on the plans;  the plans show the redeveloped site allowing views into the Vale from the road and nearby residences and the increase in height of the tower to continue the role of the tower on the skyline.  Importantly for the University the redeveloped Hall of Residence will offer 754 bed spaces which will go significantly towards addressing the shortfall of 1000 student bed spaces so that all first year students can be offered a residential place on campus.

I suspect some will see the redevelopment as an opportunity to remove the tower from the skyline but I would argue it retains replacing the tower with a new tower highlights it's an important part of the skyline and the tower will be more visually appealing.  Most excitingly the removal of the Hampton Wing, former Ridge Hall, and the repositioning of the new blocks as fingers extending into the Vale allows for views into the Vale and removes the boundary between the block and the road so that drivers and residents will be able to see the green space of the Vale extend to the road.

Application Details

Application Number2012/07252/PA

Application Type Full Planning 

Site Address The Vale University of Birmingham Edgbaston Birmingham B15 3SZ 

Proposal Erection of new student accommodation consisting of 754 bed spaces within four new buildings ranging in height from 7 storeys to 21 storeys, associated landscaping, car parking and access via Church Road. Wholesale demolition of site including Eden Tower, Hampton Wing, Chelwood Wing, Central Kitchen and Eden Wing domestic building (collectively known as Chamberlain Hall and consisting of 623 bed spaces) and removal of protected trees.http://eplanning.birmingham.gov.uk/N...APP&key=577744


Anonymous said…
I was at Birmingham University from 1974-1977 and spend my first year in what was known as High Hall. I have very fond memories of my time there. I can still picture the views across the citry centre and the floodlights from the football stadium. I was back at the University (June 2014) to see that the site is now just a big hole in the ground. Sad but the world moves on.
Anonymous said…
I was at Birmingham University 1977-80 when I lived in High Hall for my first year. I've just found out that the building has been demolished. I'm surprised how strange a feeling this is to me, even though I have not been back since that time. Sad, but that's life.
Anonymous said…
I was a resident in 82/83 and the experience was a formative one, with many friends I made on those floors, still friends today. At the time we were blissfully unaware of the potential fire safety issues. We believed the kitchens and the lifts to be the primary threat to life - closely followed by the Davenport's bitter in the bar
I was a resident in 82/83 and the experience was a formative one

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